Monday, May 20, 2013

Venice eating and drinking

Working in Italian restaurants in the United States it is common to hear that different Italian dishes are associated with different areas within Italy, just as different grape varieties often are. And we often say on this side of the Atlantic that we should pair the food of a region with the wines from that same place. But what are those relationships? How do people dine in different places? On this trip to Italy I took some time to record the food and restaurants we encountered in different locations along the way. It wasn't an exhaustive survey with a lot of note taking, it was lunch and dinner. But in my own desire to learn more about Italy I took some pictures, and thought a bit about what we were eating at the table. Now and again I will share those pictures and memories with you.

My guide on these adventures was Kevin McKenna, and it was a real pleasure to travel with him. He knows Italy extremely well, he is extremely helpful in his translations, and he isn't at all satisfied with the run of the mill. Also, he is both a brisk walker and a leisurely eater, which is in keeping with my own preferences. I am very thankful to him for showing me the way.

Coffee at a grand cafe...

Off Venice's Piazza San Marco is Caffe Florian, a coffee shop and bar founded in 1720.

Although the Florian has been in continuous operation since the 18th century, the sumptuous details of the interior date to a 19th century redecoration.

Today there are branches of the Florian in London, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere, but this is the original, where white jacketed waiters emerge from gilded corridors bearing trays of coffee spoons and coupe glasses.

The accents are lavish, but the reception is surprisingly straightforward. Most of the customers on the day of our visit had opted for the outdoor seating.

Few people aside from the staff took in the glories of the interior while we were present. We posted up at the old bar and were served our decent enough macchiatos in a timely fashion.

I found the burnish here entirely alluring. This was not a venue created yesterday with a desire for future timeless appeal. This was an original, borne of the the Venetian trade routes to Turkey and beyond, and the coffee beans that arrived through them. If the look has become timeless, it is because of spaces such as this one making it so.

A limoncello at lunch...

We had a quick lunch at a small trattoria near the hotel. When the limoncello was served with the compliments of the house, there were golden raisins at the bottom of each glass. This is not something I remember having seen in the past. Of course limoncello is more associated with the Campania, and not the Veneto, but I thought it was an interesting touch. I don't know how common it is to see this presentation within Italy.

Where we didn't go...

There is plenty of tourist schlock in the shops of Venice, your bobblehead Beatles dolls and the like, clearly aimed at the Americans passing through on vacation. But I think this menu was probably from the mind of a real rock fan,  the sort of guitarist who once toured in limited runs on the Continent, maybe, before settling down to open this simple sandwich spot. Strictly conjecture, of course, because we didn't step inside. But I snapped a photo anyway. Something about it seemed genuine. After all, does advertising a band like Hole really bring in the tourist dollars anymore? I decided the offer must have come from a true fan.

A predinner prosecco...

We did go to Al Merca, and you should too, if you find yourself in the neighborhood. It is as pleasantly simple as can be. You walk up to the small counter, which is all that there really is to the place, and you speak to one of the two employees.

You order from the short list of mostly orange wines, or a red if orange isn't your color, and whatever you choose is presented to you in a nice glass stem.

Which you then take back out to the square, where a crowd of mostly university age kids was gathered on the evening that we visited. The weather was nice, and there were probably 60 people out thereabouts drinking orange wines, talking, entirely pleasant, entirely calm. I try to imagine this scene in New York and I have difficulty. The prices would be higher, the crowd would be louder, the drinks would be beer, I don't know, but I imagine it wouldn't be the same. Which made that moment, in how simple it was and how well it was realized, all the more special to me.

Dinner and a show...

Dinner and the sword show was at Enoiteca Mascareta, a delightful little dimly lit nook found along one of the many Venice side streets that look increasingly more Byzantine as the night goes on. The owner-host-raconteur of Mascareta is Mauro Lorenzon, and should you visit him there, you will never forget him.

Mauro is the owner also of Costadila, the prosecco producer, a bottle of which he cheered us with as we arrived. A cheers for Mauro is a notable event, as you can see below.


Pictures, paintings, drawings, and odes to Mauro line the back wall, and he is sometimes depicted as he is here, with his saber. Mauro has a great passion for wine, which is perhaps only exceeded by his passion for sabering bottles of sparkling, something he does with great aplomb. Indeed, Mauro belongs to some sort of Italian sabering fraternity. As I learn this, I imagine an annual meeting consisting of large rooms filled by many older gentleman wearing scabbards and missing assorted fingertips.

For the less saber inclined, there are many still wines also available at Mascareta. In fact Mauro goes so far as to personally approve each selection, as you can see indicated by his likeness on the stickers affixed to the bottles.

You can drink well at Mascareta, and we did.

Starting with the Costadila.

Which was an excellent pairing for these small local shrimp served over corn meal, drizzled with olive oil.

As well as for the anchovies.

And the delicious clams.

These were a particular type of razor clam, said Mauro. A bit different in size than what I generally see in New York. And mighty tasty if you also heeded Mauro's advice to just ignore the occasional grittiness.

While we ate, Mauro tended to our next course.

Which was an steaming risotto.

At Mascareta there is no printed wine list, but they will sell you a glass of whatever bottle you see on the shelves, or something from the board behind the bar. Of course we'd need more wine.

And plenty more glasses.

As eventually we'd move to red.

But with the cheese, well, maybe we should have more bubbles?

The option was certainly on the table.

And you need say no more to Mauro than true magic begins to happen, with a bottle sabered in grand fashion at the bar. The short video I took of the show can be found here.

Mauro topped off our glasses.

His medals and honors clearly deserved.

And one final toast sealed a fantastic evening.


Anonymous said...

Oh, those clams look wonderful!

Do Bianchi said...

This is such an awesome post. I've never met Mauro but have always wanted to. As they say in Italian, he's a "mito".

So is Kevin bringing in Costadilà now?

Great post, dude! Loved this one...